Tuesday, 1 June 2021

The Super-spiritual Christian (Part 3): 'The Cage Stage'

I was observing a discussion online between different Christians.  One Christian asked the other, ‘what issues do you think you are wrong on?’  Of course, the other person said that they were not aware of being wrong about anything.  None of us would hold a position that we know to be wrong.  Soon that conversation was coming to an end.

I think that the person who asked the question meant to say, ‘what might you be wrong about?’  Perhaps they were pointing out that there are primary issues and secondary issues.  There are things that we must hold on to and defend at all costs, and there are issues that are less important.  There are issues that all Christians need to believe in order to be a real Christian (1 John 4:1-3).  There are also issues that Christians who are equally committed to the truth of the Bible disagree on.

The question is about what are primary issues and what are secondary issues.  If you could show me what I believe in twenty-year’s time, I would be devastated if I had changed my mind on certain things.  But if it turned out that my opinion had changed on certain other issues, I would not be bothered.  If I was to change my view on the divinity of Christ, that would be devastating.  If I had a different view the governing structure for the church, that would not bother me much.  Not all doctrines are of equal importance.

The fact that Bible-believing Christians have differing views on some issues and that some doctrines are less important than others affects how I view church.  Our church has a basic statement of faith.  Most of the doctrines that we expect for membership should be accepted all who are evangelicals.  Yet it grieves me that those who have a different view on baptism than that held by our church are not permitted to become members.  I believe that Bible-believing Christians disagree on this issue.  I believe that all who love the Lord and are in a living relationship with him are my brothers and sisters.  I believe that those who committed to the fellowship of our church and are in a living relationship with Jesus are spiritual members of this local body (1 Corinthians 12:12).  I don’t like the fact that our church membership doesn’t reflect the reality of the spiritual membership of our church.  This doesn’t mean that churches shouldn’t have a position on secondary issues.  It would be impossible to run a church without an agreed position as something as unimportant as form of church government.  Neither do I want the preachers in our church to hold contradicting positions on secondary issues.  But I don’t want our church to be an autocracy where everyone must agree with me.

This is not to say that those who hold to strong and particular theological positions are simply super-spiritual Christians.  I hold some very strong opinions on issues that are secondary to the gospel.  I will even debate some of these issues with people and try to turn them to my position.  However, what I am getting at is when you think that you are a more mature and more spiritual Christian because of your opinion on a secondary issue.  There is a temptation to think that if someone does not agree with you on everything they must be a lesser Christian.  This is at its worst when the person looking down on another simply does know the arguments presented for someone else’s case.

It is similar to what the great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was getting at when he talked about ‘The Cage stage.’  The Cage Stage was a reference to his observance that when young men start to learn about the doctrines of Calvinism they begin to think that Calvinism is the gospel.  Now he said this as someone who was strongly Calvinistic in his thinking.  He said that when a young man goes through this argumentative stage it is best to place him in a cage until he grows up a little and so won’t do so much harm.  Again, the issues surrounding Calvinism and Armenianism are big issues.  I have thought a lot about them over the last twenty years or so.  But they are not the sole determinant of the maturity of your faith.    

In the eighteenth-century the preachers George Whitefield and John Wesley strongly disagreed with each other on the issue of Calvinism and Armenianism.  Because of their disagreement, someone wondered if Whitefield thought that Wesley was a Christian.  They asked Whitefield if he expected to see Wesley in heaven.  He replied, ‘I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.’[1] He knew that there were more important issues that exacting theology.  I am not entirely sure what Tozer’s opinion on Calvinism and Armenianism was, but he gave some interesting advice to a young student.  He said ‘when you go to college you will hear people debating Calvinism and Armenianism.  What you do when that debate starts, go to your room and spend time with God.  When you join them again, they will still be debating Calvinism and Arminianism, but you will know God.’  I wouldn’t go so far as discouraging people earnestly seeking to have convictions on these issues, but I do think that it would be better to spend time getting to know God better!

The truth is that when the fullness of Christ's kingdom come we will know everything perfectly.  Now we know in part (1 Cor. 13:9).  When we know fully we will see that all of us had imperfect theology.  and we will see that many of those God considers greater than us may not have been quite as 'sound' as us.     

[1] Quoted on Whitfield and Wesley | Bible.org accessed 31st May 2021. 

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